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The Need to Read: Five Reasons You Should Have Your Nose in a Book

Reading Diminished

The act of reading a book often conjures images of cozying up fireside with a blanket and a warm mug, lounging poolside in the summer sun, or leaning against a shade tree in the middle of a bright lawn. We think of cats curled in laps, of vast and dusty libraries, of warm bookshops with dark wooden shelves, of coffee and tea. These are images of enrichment because reading is in itself enriching. But fewer people are indulging in this therapeutic pastime. According to a study from the Pew Research Center, 24% of U.S. adults did not read a single book in 2018. We avid readers see a statistic like that and feel our dinner welling up in our throats, but with 695 million books sold in the U.S. last year (about 2 books per person), there may be more to the story.

The statistics also show that whites, individuals making more than $75,000 a year, and college graduates are the most likely readers. At a glimpse, this may appear that reading is a more typical pastime of the privileged, but in 2018, the New Yorker reported that readership among Americans is, in fact, in decline across all demographics. You might think access to books is creating this gap, but another Pew study in 2016 showed that 48% of Americans visit libraries, along with half of Americans below the poverty line. So what’s going on? Well, here’s the kicker: the population of Americans who watch television is four times greater than those who read.

What’s the Big Deal?

Here’s the thing: staring passively at a screen doesn’t require any skill or intelligence, and may be turning your brain into oatmeal. A 2013 study by neuroscientist Hikaru Takeuchi showed that kids who spend too much time in front of a screen develop thickening in the frontal lobe of the brain, lowering verbal IQ and language skills. Yet on the opposite side of the coin, researchers at CMU showed that 100 hours of reading actually increases white matter in the brain, the tissue responsible for normal cognitive function. Surprise! Reading is good for you. But there are myriad reasons why grabbing a book is the superior choice to grabbing the remote. Below are the top 5 reasons you should head to the nearest bookstore or library, pronto.

  1. Improve Your Concentration. There’s no way around it: reading forces you to focus. You can’t get through a chapter without sticking all your attention to the page. And since the brain needs exercise just like your muscles, reading is one of the best ways to level up your focusing skills.
  2. Boost Your Memory. If you want to get through a book, you’re going to need to remember details like plot points, characters, settings, and who the heck had the revolver in chapter three. You’re going to need to remember the scenes that came before if you’re to interpret what happens next. Each page you turn is another boost to your memory skills.
  3. Get Smarter. Reading non-fiction will naturally teach you new information, but even reading fiction can inform the emotional self by showing you how to deal with conflict. Conflict is at the root of all fiction, and conflict is something we must all face daily. So no matter what you read, you enhance your intelligence.
  4. Escape. Let’s face it, life can be stressful. In our world’s constant roar of information, demands, and fast-paced multitasking, curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee is a welcome respite. Once you lose yourself in the page, the stress of the world melts away. Even psychologists recommend reading to help you digest your stress.
  5. Write For Yourself. Chances are, you need to use your writing skills for school, work, and even socializing. If you want to write well, you have to read. Period. Even Stephen King, one of the most prolific authors of our time, says, “Read a lot, write a lot is the great commandment.” Not only does reading improve your writer’s voice, but it also expands your vocabulary and your capacity for complex thought.

What Should You Read?

You know what? What you read doesn’t matter. If it calls to you, read it. Non-fiction is a great way to expand your view of the world, especially if you pick up a book about an unfamiliar topic or a biography of someone who fascinates you. The world of fiction is deliciously diverse with genres. Literary fiction teaches you the beauty of language and enhances your ability to empathize. Science Fiction and Fantasy will expand your imagination. Romance will inform your feelings about relationships. Mystery will aid your capacity for logical deduction. Young Adult books will help you connect with the teens in your life (and maybe give you some insight on your own past). Children’s books will sing to your youthful side. If you find reading a lonely endeavor, read aloud to a kid or an elderly person, or go volunteer at your local literacy group. The important thing is to make the effort to expand your mind, increase your brain power, and to enjoy the ride of losing yourself in a good book.

Building the Habit

Many people avoid reading for the simple fact that it bores them. They get comfortable in a chair and fall asleep, they find their minds wandering and have to reread the same sentence a hundred times.

If you fall into this category, you’re not alone. Building a reading habit takes time, and forcing yourself to do anything is the surest way to make it feel like a big snore. Start small. If you can’t concentrate on a lot of text, try a graphic novel. There are many great stories in this medium, and they don’t all involve superheroes (if that’s not your thing). When you’re ready to move to novels, grab an easy read like a lighthearted mystery or a short classic. Children’s books are a great gateway into reading, as well. The Harry Potter series has sold more than 500 million books worldwide, which makes them an ideal way to share your enjoyment with other readers and keep you reading.

If none of these spark your interest, carve your own niche. Go to the bookstore or library and take time to browse. Ask for recommendations from friends, booksellers, or librarians. Most importantly, keep an open mind. As we avid readers all know, sometimes the book will just find you.

The point is, if we don’t collectively make regular time to read, we risk losing facets of our intellects, our cultures, and our ability to empathize. Nobody wants that. And come on, reading a book is a pretty darn great way to spend an afternoon.

Need help finding a great book? Check out Business Insider’s “100 Books Everyone Should Read” (as chosen by Goodreads users):

References

Perrin, A. (2018, March 23). Who doesn’t read books in America? Retrieved January 17, 2019, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/23/who-doesnt-read-books-in-america/

Horrigan, J. B. (2016, September 09). Library usage and engagement by Americans. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/09/library-usage-and-engagement/

Crain, C. (2018, June 14). Why We Don’t Read, Revisited. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/why-we-dont-read-revisited

Fields, R. D. (2016, January 01). Does TV Rot Your Brain? Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-tv-rot-your-brain/

Carnegie Mellon University, & CMU. (n.d.). Dec. 9: Carnegie Mellon Scientists Discover First Evidence of Brain Rewiring in Children. Retrieved from https://www.cmu.edu/news/archive/2009/December/dec9_brainrewiringevidence.shtml

Why Reading is Important. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.oneworldliteracyfoundation.org/index.php/why-reading-is-important.html

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Ryan Doskocil

Ryan Doskocil

Ryan Doskocil is a writing coach, fiction author, and essayist specializing in speculative fiction and magical realism. Visit his website at ryandoskocil.com.

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